Expressing Yourself through “Genderless” Fashion

Written in Japanese by Mai Miura | Translated by Daniel Read

Ryota Yoshii presents himself with a flashy shirt, big motif earrings, and makeup. VUJ sat down with Ryota and talked about breaking stereotypical notions of “manliness” with his personal style and how it affected his way of thinking and how he sees society.

Arriving at our Zoom interview in a bright red shirt dotted with black and gold, Ryota explained that when it comes to deciding on his daily fashion looks, he is “always wearing black skinny jeans” and tries “to make [his] top half really pop.” He explains his makeup style as “natural style.” He usually goes for over-the-top secondhand and fun red crane, butterfly, or birdwing-style statement earrings. He added, “if I find womenswear to be a bit better for the same kind of product, I’ll buy that instead.”

In recent years, there has been a rise of Japanese people wearing clothes irrespective of the originally intended gender, and attention has been growing worldwide on Japan’s “genderless fashion” subculture

In recent years, there has been a rise of Japanese people wearing clothes irrespective of the originally intended gender, and attention has been growing worldwide on Japan’s “genderless fashion” subculture.

CNN style: Exploring Japan’s ‘genderless’ subculture
i-D Meets: Tokyo’s Genderless Youth 

Would you describe your own fashion style as “genderless”?

It’s hard to say, but more so than genderless per se, I think I never really liked typical men’s fashion, so naturally I gravitate towards a fashion style best described as “genderless.” I looked for clothes that I liked, and I ended up with my current style. I don’t really like the thick silver accessories people typically think of when they hear “men’s earrings.” Lately, I go more for motif earrings or simple ring piercings.

When did you solidify your personal sense of style?

With regards to fashion, probably in my junior or senior year of university. It was around that time that I first tried dying my hair blonde, getting piercings done, and trying out secondhand clothes.

What first sparked your interest?

For makeup, I think it was a few different things coming together. For example, seeing male YouTubers like Kurumatani Sena and Hyuk covering the “half-face” look (wearing makeup on only half their faces), which is often done by female YouTubers really had an impact. They put makeup on half their face and leave the other half bare, so it looks like a before and after photo. Whilst I knew there were men who wore makeup, it was amazing to see what a difference makeup could make, even with people who were already beautiful to begin with. One other influence was a conversation I had with a friend from university where we decided to give makeup a try. We thought if foundation alone can make such a difference, why not give it a go?

Kurumatani Sena

“Just because someone might look like a man or a woman on the outside, that doesn’t reflect who they are within, their personality or beliefs. Forcing them into some fixed mold isn’t cool.

Have you run into much trouble in trying to break stereotypes of “masculinity” with your style?

At work or when I visited my hometown, I’ve had former classmates make negative comments about my clothes. Since my outward appearance has nothing to do with my own personality, I was disconcerted by this social trend that permits people to make negative comments when you step outside the boundaries of a stereotypical masculine appearance, even by a little bit.

But this was a real turning point for me, and made me resolute about living in a way that’s true to myself. Rather than losing out on the things you want to do because of the perspectives of those around you, it’s much better to cut off the people who don’t accept you and surround yourself with those who do accept you and encourage you to do the things you want. I’m slowly warming up to the idea that people around you who say disparaging things about you are not worth listening to.

With gender-based stereotypes so firmly embedded in society, where do you find the drive to resist and truly express yourself?

Where I’m from, there was this sense of being closed off, or hemmed in, and you were taught to believe that boys must do this and girls must do that. But from a young age I always harbored suspicions about these gender-based stereotypes regarding “manliness” and “womanliness.” In elementary school, I remember writing about how being yourself was more important than being “a man” or “a woman.” My mother never denied who I was even when I wanted to express myself a little differently from those around me or when I thought I felt different from others. It was thanks to her that I felt it’s okay to express myself in a way that doesn’t conform to traditional norms.

Whether or not people closest to someone validates that person has a huge impact on how they view themself. So, whether it’s your friends, siblings, or partner, I think it’s important to respect that person’s choice in how they choose to present themselves, especially if it’s different from the image you have created of them.

Since you’ve adopted your current fashion style, have you noticed any change in your life?

When I was a university student, before I got piercings and started taking interest in clothing, I subscribed to some of these stereotypes myself. There’s a preconception that people who dye their hair blonde are somehow untrustworthy compared to those with natural black hair, or that guys with piercings are somehow scary. I unconsciously held a view that people who wore gaudy shirts were really selfish, over-the-top types. I’m not proud to say it, but I think I really thought deep down at the time that “I’m a better, more put-together person than them.”

But when I started to color my hair, get my ears pierced, and try out various sartorial styles, I became one of those people myself. In doing so, it occurred to me for the first time that the only thing that had changed about me was the outside, and that I basically remained the same person that I was before I dyed my hair. I realized that there’s no link between how someone expresses themself outwardly and who they are internally.

From there, I started to move away from the stereotypes I had held, and when I came across people with outlandish styles and looks, they didn’t seem scary anymore, but rather really cool. That was a big change for me.

I feel like there are many people who use the word ‘diversity’ only superficially”

There’s generally a shared understanding of “men’s makeup” and men who wear makeup as concepts but I feel like there are a lot of people who do not think that men who wear makeup exist around them.

For example, when I go to the cosmetics floor to buy products, the staff always asks “is this a gift?” Even for the salespeople, their idea is that makeup is mainly for women, and they don’t buy into the idea that there are men who like to put on makeup, too. Before revealing that I use cosmetics, I’ve had friends make off-putting comments about guys that use makeup, not realizing that I might be one of those people they’re talking about. Although the concept of men using cosmetics might be something people are generally aware of, I get the sense that there are many who don’t take into consideration that it could apply to their parents, siblings, friends, or workmates.

I have the feeling that there are so many people who utter words like diversity only superficially. Certainly, things are much better now than before these words became popular, so in that sense, life has gotten a lot better as we progress towards a more diverse world. But even so, there are many people who are ignorant of the fact that there are minorities living among us.

“People closest to you can also be a minority, or can start to be a minority.”

Divisiveness that polarizes the world into majorities and minorities is true not just in the world of fashion and cosmetics, but the same can be said with regards to other ways of self-expression or identities such as LGBTQ+.

I think there are many, many people whose idea of the world excludes minorities, as if to imply, “I know those types of people exist but that doesn’t apply here.”

Public spaces like school, workplace, social media, train stations, and supermarkets are meant to be places where everyone comes together, and even though we should all be connected in terms of time, space, and even in spirit, somehow there’s this persistent notion that the worlds of the majority and the minority are separate domains. Even if people understand that minorities exist, they never for a second think that it could apply to the person next to them.

In our current society there’s a pressure to conform, as well as the risk of people outing you as a minority, pointing fingers at you, gossiping about you – meaning that it can be really hard to truly come out and be your true self. As a result, because there’s so few chances for the majority to encounter and recognize the minority, minorities became far less visible.

People closest to you can also be a minority, or can start to be a minority. I believe that keeping that idea in the back of your mind would help make the world a better place to live in.

Ryota’s Twitter @ gen__kero
“I’m posting my opinions about issues related to gender on a daily basis. You might not be familiar with male feminists, but please feel free to check out my account if you’re interested!”

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